There are a lot of elements involved in AI and machine learning: the personal assistant is activated by a certain phrase and responds with synthesized speech, also understands what person speaks to it: a child or an adult, man or woman, and it keeps track of what is said in the dialogue.
Alice knows where to find good answers — Yandex has different services for the Russian market: Search, Music, Weather, Maps, Navigator and so on.
Now the machine learning algorithms for general conversation should combine information with the natural communication. And people actually like to interact with Alice.
More importantly, Alice attracts new users for us. For many people, communicating with Alice has become a habit already. This is a big help for SpeechKit — Yandex speech recognition technology — to grow fast in terms of performance. It knows how to deal with noise, slang, dialects and accents. The more people interact, the more training data the technology gets — and the more it improves. Now it can label voice data better than an average human, and match not only words, but also meanings.
But AI should do more than just give answers, so we've been adding more utility services like setting alarms, finding places on the map, or recognizing images with computer vision — things that we care about. And one thing we care about is our audience.
We currently have access to a big part of the mobile audience in Russia, Alice is available for millions of monthly active users of Navigator.
Yandex already has its first hardware integrations: with Sony whose latest headphones have Alice ready to be summoned with one long tap, and of course with Yandex.Station — our smart speaker.
And this is just the beginning. We plan to teach Alice to do more useful things — from opening a parking gate to ordering flowers to be delivered. Yandex Dialogs, effective in Alice skills platform, are designed to help other businesses plug in and serve their audience via Alice. Any business can create a skill on this platform and make it available through Alice. The audience on desktops, mobile devices and now Yandex.Station and Sony headphones as well can also refer to those skills provided by Yandex partners. In many cases, it can replace bots and serve as a connection between users and human operators when needed. Within the first month only, the skill store grew to comprise more than 4,000 skills. Among our early adopters, we have large businesses in different industries like banking, airlines, sports equipment, restaurants, and education.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Now we are working on adding secure and convenient authentication and payment processing so people can also use Alice to make purchases and transactions.